W.E.B. Du Bois’ complex legacy should be honored

By Letter to the Editor, Monday, Feb 19

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To the Editor:

On February 23rd, the Town of Great Barrington will celebrate the 150th birthday of one of its most important and influential residents, William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois. Friday evening, at an event I’m looking forward to attending, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center will host an evening honoring this man and his legacy. An African-American sociologist, activist, and writer, Du Bois was instrumental, through his ceaseless study, writing, and advocacy, in fighting for civil rights for the African American community. Du Bois’ legacy is complex, yet certainly worthy of our attention. He embraced the gift of family and community. His relentless pursuit of human rights took him from Great Barrington High School (predecessor to Searles High School), to Fisk University, to the halls of Harvard, and, ultimately, to the NAACP. In his schooling, Du Bois broke ground as the first African American graduate and also valedictorian of the town high school and as Harvard University’s first African American doctoral degree recipient. Rising above political disputes, Du Bois should be honored for his passion, vision, and commitment to the betterment of society. This dedication to cause ultimately forced him leave his community and nation. Despite his physical departure, his proud legacy lives on today.

Walking around campus at Harvard this weekend, my eye was drawn to a poster advertising the 150th Birthday Anniversary Concert hosted by the Harvard Du Bois Orchestra. This undergraduate ensemble, inspired by the work of W. E .B. Du Bois, seeks to raise campus awareness on issues of social exclusion in classical music. The W. E. B. Du Bois Graduate Society and W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute, both at Harvard University, carry on his advocacy for equality and civil rights. On the Amherst campus, UMass named in his honor one of its two campus libraries, which contains over 100,000 items of correspondence from his lifetime. In Great Barrington, the Du Bois Center, headed by Randy Weinstein, and the W. E. B. Du Bois National Historic Site Working Committee, remain committed to ensuring that Du Bois, his story, and his works are preserved and available for the consumption of present and future generations. For anyone, much less an African American young man in the late 1800s, to rise from a small rural town such as Great Barrington to a place of lasting prominence on the national stage, is nothing short of extraordinary. Today, in our world of sensationalized celebrities and public leaders, W. E. B. Du Bois serves as a shining example of how one passionate and motivated individual, from humble beginnings, can drive change in the world and leave it a better place. On Friday we celebrate this native son. Let’s not just make it one day, though, but always.

Joe Grochmal
Housatonic

The writer is a student at Harvard University in Cambridge.

Du Bois 150th Festival In Great Barrington

BY JOE DONAHUE, FEB 16, 2018

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W.E.B. Du Bois was one of the most important African-American activists during the first half of the 20th century. He co-founded the NAACP, supported Pan-Africanism, and was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts 150 years ago this month and Great Barrington's Du Bois anniversary celebration began on January 15 and will continue throughout 2018.

Here to tell us more are Dennis Powell, President of the Berkshire County Branch NAACP;and member of the Steering Committee Du Bois Lecture Series; Professor Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Du Bois Center at UMass Amherst; Ted Thomas, poet and teacher who directs the student Du Bois spoken word programs; and Barbara Dean, musician, performer, and radio DJ who has worked on Du Bois issues and promotion in Great Barrington for about three decades.

The 150th Commemoration of W.E.B. Du Bois’ Birth and His Letter to John F. Kennedy

By Howard Lisnoff

A week into John Kennedy’s presidency, the great civil rights leader and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois typed a letter to the new president. The letter is among the massive scholarly work of Du Bois at the University of Massachusetts and is now on display in a glass case at the Mason Library in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the birthplace of this giant among world leaders.

Du Bois begins his letter with an appeal to the new president to take up the work for the nation and make the federal government the leader in ending the barriers to equality of black people in the United States. Du Bois’ writing is a petition to Mr. Kennedy. Du Bois calls for an end of “gradualism” in taking down the barriers to equality and calls on the government to look to the federal role in championing civil rights in the shadow of the movement for states rights which was the buzzword of the time for the existence and enforcement of segregation.  He calls on the president to “end segregation and Jim Crow.”

He advises the president to use “moral strength” to end bias and to “bring respect for the inalienable rights of man” (It should be noted that Du Bois was a strong and early supporter of women’s rights.).

Du Bois then leaves the lofty plain of rhetoric and writes about the practical needs of black people for rights and equality. He discusses the need for employment and “job tenure,”  voting rights, education, and the necessity of good housing. What is remarkable when reading this letter, or reading his seminal books The Souls of Black Folk andBlack Reconstruction in America, is how prescient and contemporary Du Bois’ writing and activism was and is. He then continues his petition to the president in the form of 10 points.

He calls for the end of superiority of one group over others by the inappropriate use of legal and police power. Next he calls for the appointment of a “Secretary of Civil Rights,” a call for an “End Segregation Conference,” to begin a “crusade against racist ideology,” identify black ghettos as “distressed communities,” and “eliminate … poverty, misery, illiteracy and chronic ill health,” cut off aid to universities and colleges that “propagate segregation,” eliminate federal contracts with employers who segregate in their workforce, establish the universal right to vote, establish a committee to address housing issues, and make it the mission of federal agencies to make these goals the goals of the government.

Reading Du Bois’ letter to John Kennedy nearly six decades later feels like setting down in a time machine and knowing that Du Bois’ petition is as powerful today as it was then. It is also an issue that casts a long shadow of what equality means in the U.S. today when a person who endorsed white supremacy and white supremacists is President of the United States and Nazis march along side white supremacists and condone and perpetrate murder. It is, in some measure, as if the words of Du Bois needed to be written all over again!

Only a few, short miles from the Mason Library is the homestead among the Berkshire Hills where Du Bois spent the first several years of his life. It is near these still bucolic farm fields and foothills of the Appalachian Mountains that he came to love the environment where he grew up and went to school and where he learned an abiding love for the natural world, paying special attention to the beauty and needs of the Housatonic River that ran through the town where he was born.

On the way up to his homestead and the peacefulness of the forest and mountains that surround it, is the Mahaiwe Cemetery where Du Bois buried his young son, Burghardt, his first wife, Nina, and his daughter, Yolande. Du Bois must have felt great sadness when he returned to his beloved former home in 1961 to bury his daughter, just after writing the letter to Kennedy that he never sent. But his words and his incredible scholarship and activism for the freedom of all men and women can almost be heard echoing today among these hills carried on a wintry wind. All that a person needs to do first is learn how to listen.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

WAMC's Alan Chartock In Conversation With Dr. Jamall Calloway On W.E.B. Dubois

(Airs 2/01/18 @1 p.m.) WAMC's Alan Chartock In Conversationwith Dr. Jamall Calloway, a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Professor at the Center for the Study of Race & Ethnicity in America at Brown University. You can see Dr. Calloway Saturday, February 10th from 3-5 p.m. at Searles Castle on Main Street in Great Barrington where he’ll be talking about The Enduring Influence of W.E.B. Du Bois. The speech is in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Dubois' birth. The event is free and open to the public and includes the talk and a tour of the Castle.

 

Benard A. Drew | Our Berkshires: W.E.B. Du Bois' roots as a teenager reporter

Our Berkshires

Posted Friday, January 26, 2018 2:15 pm

By Bernard A. Drew

GREAT BARRINGTON — An ambitious mix of programs in Great Barrington celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of noted social justice activist W.E.B. Du Bois. Hats off to Randy Weinstein, Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant and others for the array of perspectives on the town native's life.

You can glimpse the bedrock of Du Bois's investigative prowess as a sociologist and his assertiveness and solid voice as a journalist from his two years as a newspaper reporter, albeit one relegated largely to accumulating social notes.

"About 1882 when I was a school boy in Massachusetts I became local correspondent for the New York Globe which was the first colored paper that I had ever seen," Du Bois wrote in 1942. "I used to sell about ten copies to the small group of colored people in my home, Great Barrington, and wrote from time to time little news notes which [Editor] T. Thomas Fortune published to my intense gratification and delight."

Wrote for Republican

For the Freeman's Dec. 27, 1884, issue, for example, he wrote: "Miss Hattie Sumea of Providence, R.I., is visiting her parents. Mr. Wm. Crosley has returned from New York. While in New York he was the guest of Mr. J.C. Dennis. On Thursday, the 18th, the ladies of the A.M.E. Zion Church held a meeting at Mrs. S. Gardner's and M. Newport's, to raise money to pay for the quarterly visits of the pastor. The supper was very successful both financially and socially. Miss Hattie Sumea favored the company with a number of fine selections on the organ. Miss Sumea has a very pleasant voice and a distinct utterance."

He also wrote for the regular press. "For a few months through the goodwill of Johnnie Morgan, I rose to be local correspondent of the Springfield Republican," Du Bois recalled in "A Pageant in Seven Decades."

Du Bois may have filled a niche while the Republican found someone to replace correspondent Hiram T. Oatman. Scholar Paul G. Partington, identified two articles as for-certain written by Du Bois. The teenager wrote in September 1884, for example, about the annual agricultural show: "On the second day of the Housatonic fair, the display of horses and colts has been very creditable, many of the best horses in the southern part of the county being on the ground. Good judges estimated the crowd at 15,000. Sheffield carried off the honors in the various departments of fruits. Charles Spurr, Zacheas Candee, J.N. Warner, Dwight Andrus, Dwight Boardman and H. Clark all making fine displays of fall and winter apples, while in peaches, plums, pears and grapes R.F. Little, H.Z. Candee, Charles Spurr and Z. Candee received premiums. The potato exhibit is not up to the past, for the crop is poor in this section, but there are about a dozen varieties entered." There's a succinctness and clarity of language evident.

Another of Du Bois's reports was of a spectacular fire in July 1885: "The big barn on the farm of Harry A. Leavitt at Great Barrington, was burned last evening. The cause of the fire is unknown and is supposed to be accidental, since no motive for incendiaries can be alleged. The building was entirely destroyed. The live stock was saved, but most of the other contents, hay, grain, farming tools, machines and the like were burned. The insurance is not known. The barn was a remarkable collection of buildings, including stables, quarters for common and fancy stock, grist-mill, saw-mill and carriage houses ." That property was Brookside.

Du Bois's awareness of race grew. "Among the most encouraging signs of the advancement of the colored race here was the formation of a club for literary and social improvement to be known as the Sons of Freedom," Du Bois reported in The Freeman Feb. 6, 1884. "We call upon all members of the race who sincerely wish for its advancement to join the ranks. The next meeting will be held at the residence of Mr. Wm. Crosley on Monday evening, Dec. 9. Your correspondent very successfully discussed a turkey with Mr. Jason Cooley on Thanksgiving afternoon."

Cooley, restaurateur and handyman, was a pillar of the black community and one of the instigators of the construction of Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church in town. Yes, Du Bois, 16, and Cooley, 48, talked turkey — that's the writer's trademark double meaning.

'Thrown in upon myself'

He was comfortable with his Great Barrington neighbors but felt a growing New England reticence about mingling.

"In one respect my training in this town has had rather momentous results," he wrote in "A Pageant." "It was not good form in New England or in Great Barrington to express yourself volubly, to give way to emotion — people held themselves in. They were sparing even of their greetings. There was only on the street a curt `Good morning' to those whom you knew and no greeting at all for others. The result was that because of this and probably from growing racial consciousness I was early thrown in upon myself. I found it difficult and even unnecessary to approach other people and by that same token my own inner life grew perhaps the richer. Later the habit of repression often returned to plague me, for so early a habit could not easily be unlearned.:

He became the consummate observer.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.

Art in honor: W.E.B. Du Bois mural goes up in Great Barrington

By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle

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GREAT BARRINGTON — They packed the alley for the native son.

At the downtown unveiling of a new mural honoring W.E.B. Du Bois, around 100 people came for the big impact of a little mural in a small-town alley — now known as Du Bois Alley.

The mural and local celebration of the Du Bois' legacy is "long overdue," said Monument Mountain High senior Theresa Russell, who introduced the mural honoring the African-American scholar, author and civil rights activist who was a founder of the NAACP.

Guided by Ari Cameron, a special projects coordinator at Railroad Street Youth Project, about 20 young people spent the last year planning, discussing, seeking approvals and painting the mural depicting William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in the place he loved most, and with two people he loved — his wife Nina and infant son Burghardt, who would die young because white doctors would not treat him.

Monument seniors Zufan Bazzano and Sophie Shron also led the mural team, which found guidance from artists Massimo Mongiardo, Brian Cartier, and Multicultural BRIDGE youth coordinator JV Hampton-VanSant.

Unveiled in the first week of a festival lead-up to what will be Du Bois' 150th birthday on Feb. 23, the mural in the alley between Railroad Street and the Triplex Cinema parking lot has had lots of supporters and help.

Triplex owner Richard Stanley has previously said he is thrilled to host the mural on the alley building, which he also owns. 

The group has also created several more murals honoring Du Bois, set to go up this spring on the Triplex building and in the alley near Rubi's Cafe, on a building owned by Erik Bruun, a founding board member of the Youth Project.

"It happened," said a jubilant Ananda Timpane, executive director of the youth project, after the unveiling, referring to a number of obstacles, stops and starts to get murals up on private property downtown.

Hampton-VanSant, who also built the DuBois150th.com website for Du Bois resources and ongoing events, said he was fortunate to have been involved in the creation of the mural. 

"I've lived here 27 years, and being a black resident of this community, that this is physically in the downtown, and will be up here for a very long while will remind people of something," 

That something has overcome decades where Du Bois' legacy in the town where he was born was minimized due to controversies born from a long life spent tangling with the status quo of race relations and other injustices in American society.

Elizabeth Blackshine came with family and friends from Albany to attend what she called a "historic event."

Blackshine is a co-founder of Harmony Homestead & Wholeness, a newly formed organization working for racial harmony and peace. The group will hold a prayer vigil on Feb. 18 in Hillsdale, N.Y. as part of the 150th celebration.

After the unveiling, the crowd moved into the Triplex Cinema, where students who participated in a Du Bois writing program either recited Du Bois' own work or their own, inspired by him.

"There's a lot of history that needs to be reflected on — young activists are the voices of the future," said Alfred "A.J." Enchell, Jr., who is district aide for state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. Both Enchell and Hampton-VanSant introduced the speakers at "Young Voices on Du Bois."

Monument Senior Tristan Alston recited Du Bois' poem, "Song of the Smoke:" 

"I am the Smoke King

I am black!

I am swinging in the sky,

I am wringing worlds awry ..."

Festival co-organizer Gwendolyn Hampton-VanSant later said the program was for students to share their experience of learning about Du Bois, and working with educator and Multicultural BRIDGE facilitator Stephanie Wright

"It was beautiful," said Hampton-VanSant, who is CEO and founder of BRIDGE

Solomon Bennett, a senior at Berkshire Waldorf High School spoke of his own grappling with the immense struggle required to make social, economic and political changes.

"I should like to be a hero though I know not where to begin," he said.

But by the end, Bennett is finding his way, Du Bois-style.

"I realize I shouldn't like to be a hero, for I should like to be a person. I should like to be a person just as everyone else. I see now that being human is heroic. We need no knight in shining armor to fix our problems — only we ourselves can do that. 

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871

Tribute to Du Bois' 150th birthday kicks off with new exhibit and youth involvement

By Terry Cowgill Friday, Jan 19 News

Members of the Railroad Street Youth Project unveil the new W.E.B. Du Bois mural located in the alley between Railroad Street and the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington.

Members of the Railroad Street Youth Project unveil the new W.E.B. Du Bois mural located in the alley between Railroad Street and the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington.

Great Barrington — The month-long celebration of the 150th birthday of W.E.B. Du Bois kicked off Thursday (Jan. 18) with a trifecta: the opening of an exhibit of the famous African-American scholar in the Mason Library, the unveiling of an alley mural celebrating his life, and a reading about Du Bois by young writers.

Attending the opening exhibit at the Mason Library were Clinton Church Restoration Chairman Wray Gunn (left) and Dennis Powell, who heads the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Attending the opening exhibit at the Mason Library were Clinton Church Restoration Chairman Wray Gunn (left) and Dennis Powell, who heads the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The birthday events for Great Barrington’s most famous native son seem to signal a newfound appreciation of the civil rights leader, who had not been fully embraced by the community because of his sometimes-controversial past.

For the uninitiated, nowhere is there a better place to start to learn more about Du Bois than the exhibit set up by library staff and Randy Weinstein, who founded the Du Bois Center at Great Barrington.

About 75 people turned out in the Mason Library to view the exhibit and to hear from organizers and dignitaries. There were books on display–some about Du Bois and others authored by him. There were posters with interesting facts. There were photos and documents.

One of the most interesting and rarely mentioned documents is a letter Du Bois wrote in 1961 to President John F. Kennedy advising stronger action on the civil rights front. This was when, at the age of 93, Du Bois had returned to Great Barrington to bury his daughter, Yolande, in the Mahaiwe Cemetery.

Randy Weinstein, founder of the Du Bois Center at Great Barrington. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Randy Weinstein, founder of the Du Bois Center at Great Barrington. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Du Bois felt Kennedy owed black people a bolder approach since, “Some of us cast our vote impelled by the hope your words generated, and guided by the fact that we cannot live as formerly.”

“He probably did it one night in a fit of something and then he put it away in a desk drawer and it was never published or sent to Kennedy,” Weinstein said. “I’m not 93 years old but if I were, what a haul that would be to come from New York City with my daughter, bury her and then go off to Ghana and write an encyclopedia.”

Whitney Battle-Baptiste, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at UMass Amherst and a Du Bois scholar, told attendees that, during the week of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, “it’s important that we understand Du Bois’ role as kind of an architect of the civil rights movement.”

“When I first came to UMass, Du Bois and Great Barrington — difficult relationship,” Battle-Baptiste recalled. “To come into this library and to see this … Great Barrington was always in his heart and in his soul, no matter that even though he was laid to rest in Ghana. Please understand that Great Barrington, from the time he was born to the time he died, was always in his heart.”

See video below taken by Terry Cowgill of those who spoke in the Mason Library:

Du Bois and his legacy have had a long and complicated relationship with the town and with the overwhelmingly white Berkshires. Some are wary of his anti-capitalist views and his embrace of communism late in life.

Whitney Battle-Baptiste, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at UMass-Amherst and a Du Bois scholar. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Whitney Battle-Baptiste, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at UMass-Amherst and a Du Bois scholar. Photo: Terry Cowgill

 

There was an effort in 1968 to create a Du Bois memorial at the Du Bois Boyhood Homesite at what is now the known as the W.E.B. Du Bois National Historic Site in Great Barrington. The effort, ultimately successful, nonetheless divided the public and sparked great controversy in the news media both locally and nationally. The John Birch Society, the American Legion, and the Daughters of the American Revolution had bitterly opposed the creation of the park.

In a later incident that garnered much publicity, the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee in 2004 declined to name after Du Bois one of the two new schools it had built. The new elementary school was named instead after a small watercourse, the Muddy Brook, that runs behind the building on Monument Valley Road.

The decision sparked outrage in the community, with one school committee member calling it a “media circus.” But as the Du Bois Center’s website makes clear, “There are at least five public schools named for Du Bois in multiple states, including California, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio. His face and name twice appeared on United States postage stamps.”

Coco Raymond, a Bard College at Simon’s Rock student who recently completed a research project about Du Bois. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Coco Raymond, a Bard College at Simon’s Rock student who recently completed a research project about Du Bois. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Battle-Baptiste made reference to President Donald Trump’s recent crude and insensitive remarks about immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean nations, including Haiti. She called Trump’s words “a couple of interesting comments by the president.”

“The exhibit talks about his life and his larger contributions,” Battle-Baptiste explained. “Du Bois’ father was born and raised in Haiti.”

One student from Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Coco Raymond, recently completed a research project on Du Bois and spoke of how thrilled she was to use the resources of the exhibit and of the Du Bois Center.

“This is an amazing trove of artifacts and primary source documents,” Raymond said. “I really hope you all can take the time to appreciate this and how really wonderful these artifacts are.”

From the Mason Library, the action moved across the street to the unveiling of a mural honoring Du Bois that was designed and painted by the Railroad Street Youth Project. The mural essentially replaced one that was painted about 15 years ago–and repainted seven years later–on the south-facing cinderblock wall of Carr Hardware, but was removed in 2012 when the company had to perform renovation work on the building.

Railroad Street Youth Project intern Theresa Russell reads a statement about the mural. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Railroad Street Youth Project intern Theresa Russell reads a statement about the mural. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Years in the making, the new mural is located on a wall in the alleyway between Railroad Street and the parking lot behind the Barrington House. The project had the full support of local businessman Richard Stanley, who owns both the alleyway and the Triplex Cinema, where the student readings were held a few minutes later in the cinema’s screening room.

Theresa Russell, a Railroad Street intern, read a statement explaining the design and thanking those who helped make the project a reality. The mural, whose theme was connecting Du Bois’ life to Great Barrington, was painted by youth and community members with the Railroad Street Youth Project, led by Zufan Bazzano and Sophie Shron. Click here to read Russell’s remarks.

“This mural is part of a much larger movement in Great Barrington to honor Du Bois — from the pole banners to the birthday festival itself,” Russell said. “We are proud to be a part of the Du Bois 150th Festival and legacy.”

Click on video link below, courtesy of Railroad Street Youth Project Executive Director Ananda Timpane, who live-streamed the mural unveiling on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/ananda.timpane/videos/10208942944329590/

Russell explained that the designers of the mural selected the colors of a Berkshire sunrise “because Du Bois was deeply moved by the natural beauty here and we wanted the mural to liven up public spaces, especially in the winter.”

The mural also depicts several of Du Bois’ family members, including Burghart (his son who died as an infant) and Nina Gomer Du Bois (his first wife with whom he has two children), because “they deeply inspired him,” Russell said.

The afternoon concluded in the Triplex with several students from schools in the Berkshires–public and private–reading poetry and prose concerning Du Bois and, more generally, the topics of racism and social justice.

See video below of the students readers courtesy of RSYP Director Timpane:

 

Art in honor: W.E.B. Du Bois mural goes up in Great Barrington

Elizabeth Blackshine, co-founder of Harmony Homestead & Wholeness came from Albany, N.Y. with family and friends for this "historic event."

Elizabeth Blackshine, co-founder of Harmony Homestead & Wholeness came from Albany, N.Y. with family and friends for this "historic event."

By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle

GREAT BARRINGTON — They packed the alley for the native son.

At the downtown unveiling of a new mural honoring W.E.B. Du Bois, around 100 people came for the big impact of a little mural in a small-town alley — now known as Du Bois Alley.

The mural and local celebration of the Du Bois' legacy is "long overdue," said Monument Mountain High senior Theresa Russell, who introduced the mural honoring the African-American scholar, author and civil rights activist who was a founder of the NAACP.

Guided by Ari Cameron, a special projects coordinator at Railroad Street Youth Project, about 20 young people spent the last year planning, discussing, seeking approvals and painting the mural depicting William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in the place he loved most, and with two people he loved — his wife Nina and infant son Burghardt, who would die young because white doctors would not treat him.

Monument seniors Zufan Bazzano and Sophie Shron also led the mural team, which found guidance from artists Massimo Mongiardo, Brian Cartier, and Multicultural BRIDGE youth coordinator JV Hampton-VanSant.

Unveiled in the first week of a festival lead-up to what will be Du Bois' 150th birthday on Feb. 23, the mural in the alley between Railroad Street and the Triplex Cinema parking lot has had lots of supporters and help.

Triplex owner Richard Stanley has previously said he is thrilled to host the mural on the alley building, which he also owns. 

The group has also created several more murals honoring Du Bois, set to go up this spring on the Triplex building and in the alley near Rubi's Cafe, on a building owned by Erik Bruun, a founding board member of the Youth Project.

"It happened," said a jubilant Ananda Timpane, executive director of the youth project, after the unveiling, referring to a number of obstacles, stops and starts to get murals up on private property downtown.

Hampton-VanSant, who also built the DuBois150th.com website for Du Bois resources and ongoing events, said he was fortunate to have been involved in the creation of the mural. 

"I've lived here 27 years, and being a black resident of this community, that this is physically in the downtown, and will be up here for a very long while will remind people of something," 

That something has overcome decades where Du Bois' legacy in the town where he was born was minimized due to controversies born from a long life spent tangling with the status quo of race relations and other injustices in American society.

Elizabeth Blackshine came with family and friends from Albany to attend what she called a "historic event."

Blackshine is a co-founder of Harmony Homestead & Wholeness, a newly formed organization working for racial harmony and peace. The group will hold a prayer vigil on Feb. 18 in Hillsdale, N.Y. as part of the 150th celebration.

After the unveiling, the crowd moved into the Triplex Cinema, where students who participated in a Du Bois writing program either recited Du Bois' own work or their own, inspired by him.

"There's a lot of history that needs to be reflected on — young activists are the voices of the future," said Alfred "A.J." Enchell, Jr., who is district aide for state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. Both Enchell and Hampton-VanSant introduced the speakers at "Young Voices on Du Bois."

Monument Senior Tristan Alston recited Du Bois' poem, "Song of the Smoke:" 

"I am the Smoke King

I am black!

I am swinging in the sky,

I am wringing worlds awry ..."

Festival co-organizer Gwendolyn Hampton-VanSant later said the program was for students to share their experience of learning about Du Bois, and working with educator and Multicultural BRIDGE facilitator Stephanie Wright

"It was beautiful," said Hampton-VanSant, who is CEO and founder of BRIDGE

Solomon Bennett, a senior at Berkshire Waldorf High School spoke of his own grappling with the immense struggle required to make social, economic and political changes.

"I should like to be a hero though I know not where to begin," he said.

But by the end, Bennett is finding his way, Du Bois-style.

"I realize I shouldn't like to be a hero, for I should like to be a person. I should like to be a person just as everyone else. I see now that being human is heroic. We need no knight in shining armor to fix our problems — only we ourselves can do that. 

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871

Make America Great, Du Bois-style: Unsent petition to JFK asks for sweeping changes

W. E. B. Du Bois with Alice Crawford, his cousin, and Arthur McFarlane, his great grandson, at New York airport before leaving for Ghana in 1961. PHOTO PROVIDED BY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UMASS AMHERST LIBRARIES

W. E. B. Du Bois with Alice Crawford, his cousin, and Arthur McFarlane, his great grandson, at New York airport before leaving for Ghana in 1961.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UMASS AMHERST LIBRARIES

By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle

GREAT BARRINGTON — Nearly 50 years ago, someone wanted a U.S. president to make America great.

A hard-hitting petition written in 1961 by W.E.B. Du Bois to John F. Kennedy — but never sent — mapped out what Du Bois said was the way to gain the world's respect, and told Kennedy that African-Americans held great hope that he would make fast and sweeping changes, like ending states' rights that allowed racism and brutality to fester.

"You, Mr. President, have said that our county has lost prestige in the councils of the world. We believe that this is true and that there is a definite relationship between this fact and the attitude of government toward us, its Negro nationals. Some of us cast our vote impelled by the hope your words generated, and guided by the fact that we cannot live as formerly."

An original copy of the three-page letter was installed Tuesday in a new Du Bois exhibit at the Mason Library on Main Street at the start of a five-week festival to celebrate what would be Du Bois' 150th birthday on Feb. 23. 

Randy Weinstein, director of the Du Bois Center Great Barrington assembled the exhibit from his collection, as well as from items on loan from the UMass Amherst Libraries W. E. B. Du Bois Library, which loaned the original petition.

Known as one of the earliest architects of the U.S. civil rights movement, poet, author and scholar William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington in 1868 — just three years after slavery was abolished.

Written in February of that year, when Du Bois was 93, it never left his study. 

In it he decries "the practice of gradualism," and tells Kennedy he should use the Executive Order to make decisive changes to state and federal laws applying to the treatment of African-American citizens. 

He said the country needed awakening from a "self-denying lethargy" to "end segregation and jim-crow now."

And he appealed to Kennedy's "great influence to bring respect for the inalienable rights of man."

Du Bois advised an all-out crusade.

"Mobilize science and the arts to render shattering blows to the myth of white superiority in every area of our cultural life ... these shameful features of our national life astound and shock the world."

He went on to tell Kennedy to finish what Abraham Lincoln had started, and laid out plans that included appointing an African-American to a new cabinet post known as "Secretary of Civil Rights." This role, he said, would protect African-Americans from racist state agencies working "under the guise" of states' rights. 

As well as voting rights for blacks, Du Bois also called for Kennedy to create programs that would put an end to city ghettos, and root out racism and discrimination in state and federal agencies, and other businesses and institutions.

It is possible the petition was never sent because the NAACP founder and leader got sidetracked, Weinstein said. His daughter Yolande died the following month, and Du Bois brought her body from New York to Great Barrington to bury her in the Mahaiwe Cemetery. 

Weinstein also said that same spring, Du Bois, frustrated with the pace of social advances in the country, joined the Communist Party of the U.S.A. on the basis of what were its tenets of humanizing policies.

"Free education for everyone, free health care for everyone — that's what the Communist Party stood for in 1961," Weinstein said. 

But in a nation still gripped by cold war fever and policies, this didn't go over well. It only increased suspicion of Du Bois, who was already under government surveillance as he went about writing and lecturing about equal rights for African-Americans.

By 1961, Du Bois was weary from years of attack and harassment because of his activism and ideas.

That fall, he left for Ghana to work on the "Encyclopedia Africana," and died in 1963 at age 95, just one year before the Civil Rights Act was enacted in the U.S.

Weinstein said Du Bois' towering contributions, amid living life, continued at an astonishing pace.

"How many people do you know are 93 and function like this?" Weinstein said.

Kennedy had only been in office for little more than a month when Du Bois wrote the petition, which ends with Du Bois saying he believed Kennedy could use his sword of power to cut deep into the belly of this most wicked American beast. 

A man fortified by an unwavering climb up his own stairs of destiny, Du Bois asked Kennedy to step up.

"Yours is the hour of destiny, Mr. President. What we ask is within your power. We urge you to act now."

You can view the document here:

http://credo.library.umass.edu/view/pageturn/mums312-b229-i026/#page/1/mode/1up

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871

Honoring W.E.B. Du Bois, Restoring a Civil Rights Icon's Legacy

Co-chairs Randy Weinstein & Gwendolyn VanSant; Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin; Selectboard Members Bill Cooke, Ed Abrahams, & Dan Bailly; Advisors Sara Mugridge & Ari Cameron. Du Bois Family portrait donated by UMASS. Jan 8, 2018.

Co-chairs Randy Weinstein & Gwendolyn VanSant; Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin; Selectboard Members Bill Cooke, Ed Abrahams, & Dan Bailly; Advisors Sara Mugridge & Ari Cameron. Du Bois Family portrait donated by UMASS. Jan 8, 2018.

By Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, January 13th, 2018

Gwendolyn VanSant and Randy Weinstein were invited to serve as co-chairs of the Town Of Great Barrington Du Bois 150th Committee in Spring 2017. Randy extended the invitation to Gwendolyn based on her work in building Multicultural BRIDGE, a representation of Du Bois's core values. Together they decided to do three things: celebrate Du Bois, educate the public about Du Bois’s work, and create legacy projects in partnership with community members.

Randy, a historian and Du Bois expert, has worked diligently to create exhibits and galleries of Du Bois's work in collaboration with UMASS. Gwendolyn has brought her expertise of equity, justice, and cultural competence to the overall Festival programming and engagement of scholars. Together, they curated a course to dig deep into the legacy of Du Bois, and they are amplifying the work of organizations and individuals that embody his legacy. From photos of Du Bois's family and birth certificate in the town hall to repairing family tombstones, “restoring legacy” is the central shared vision. The pole banners that fly (reflecting Du Bois's core principles of racial equality, progressive education, civil rights, and economic justice) represent the Town embracing their leader. Gwendolyn is proud to share that her community-building and advocacy skills were necessary to accomplish this beautiful honoring.

On Monday, January 15th, my small, but mighty town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts will kick off its W. E. B. Du Bois 150th Festival. Poles throughout the downtown area are now decorated with banners of Du Bois and messages of racial justice and civil rights, and a calendar of events will run through February 28th to honor and educate the public about this great Civil Rights icon. 

As co-chair and co-curator of this legacy effort, I have never been so fulfilled by a project. It is the culmination of nine months of work, and 100+ years of a community working through an activist’s complex legacy. It is evidence as well of how a single activist’s work lives on in powerful ways. The ripples of one’s work (and resolve) feed into future movements in ways we can never predict.

I first discovered Du Bois’s work at 15 while applying to college at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington. Reading The Souls of of Black Folk, first published in 1903, and learning about the concepts of “the veil” and “double consciousness”—this was the first time I felt I had words for the split experience I was living as a Black scholar in my first college English course.

Du Bois was a man before his time. He was thinking, writing, and acting boldly on gender, race, poverty, and the complexities of identity and consciousness when nearly everyone and everything would have him do otherwise. He was a leader of the Niagara Movement, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Pan-African Congresses. By 35, he had written The Suppression of the African Slave TradeThe Philadelphia Negro, and The Souls of Black Folk. While Du Bois maintained dual citizenship at the end of his life, and chose to be buried in Ghana, he stood for what we should all believe in here in the United States: good, accessible, and progressive education; racial awareness and equality; civil rights for all; and later in his life, economic justice.

I was delighted to learn that Du Bois was born in Great Barrington in 1868. If I hadn’t been introduced to his work, my personal journey would not have been the same. I realize now just how much everything I do has been influenced by Du Bois. As an activist, I am inspired by how he approached activism with a spirit of discovery. He was never afraid to expose contradictions. He used his incredible scholarly intellect to advance progressive education and to honor the work of Black women. In his written works, he inquired about the nature of activism itself. This approach should inspire a similar courage and curiosity in us all. 

I first worked with Festival co-chair, Randy Weinstein, of The Du Bois Center almost 30 years ago as a research intern. I was proud to share our progress on this project with my mentor Dr. Homer “Skip” Meade, a Du Bois scholar and fellow activist. The seeds that these relationships have planted in my justice work are priceless, and all of them were inspired by Du Bois. (Skip reminds me that our efforts with this festival will assist future program planning statewide, nationwide, and internationally. I know he is right).

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I also have to wonder what would Great Barrington be without Du Bois. He paved the way for the activism our town is known for. Great Barrington rightly chooses to claim their native son as I claim him as a sage ancestor. Du Bois serves as a beacon not just for me, but for generations of Black scholars to come. This is why I am always so excited to share his important work with others. I know that celebrating Du Bois for his 150th is what our nation needs at this time. We must herald the wisdom and clarity as well as the courage and steadfastness of his work.

As we reflect on how to bring our nation to the point of living its ideals (liberty, equality, and justice for all), we can look to Du Bois for clear vision, heart, and guidance. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois wrote:

 “Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims landed we were here. Here we have brought our three gifts and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song—soft, stirring melody in an ill-harmonized and unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it; the third, a gift of the Spirit. Around us the history of the land has centred for thrice a hundred years; out of the nation's heart we have called all that was best to throttle and subdue all that was worst; fire and blood, prayer and sacrifice, have billowed over this people, and they have found peace only in the altars of the God of Right. Nor has our gift of the Spirit been merely passive. Actively we have woven ourselves with the very warp and woof of this nation,—we fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs, and generation after generation have pleaded with a headstrong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy, and Truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse. Our song, our toil, our cheer, and warning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth the giving? Is not this work and striving? Would America have been America without her Negro people?” 

As I sit two days before the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, to help us digest these words from Du Bois, I want to share these words from King from his essay, “Honoring Dr. Du Bois”:

“It would be well to remind white America of its debt to Dr. Du Bois. When they corrupted Negro history they distorted American history, because Negroes are too big a part of the building of this nation to be written out of it without destroying scientific history. White America, drenched with lies about Negroes, has lived too long in a fog of ignorance. Dr. Du Bois gave them a gift of truth for which they should eternally be indebted to him.” 

King encourages us to thank Du Bois for telling our true history and honoring the contributions of all American people. We must teach our children this history. The only America that we can build is a country that claims, learns, and evolves from our history. King and Du Bois, like others, give us a roadmap through their work, words, and resolve.

In 1912, in “I Am Resolved,” Du Bois so beautifully declared:

“I am resolved in this New Year to play the man — to stand straight, look the world squarely in the eye, and walk to my work with no shuffle or slouch

I am resolved to be satisfied with no treatment which ignores my manhood and my right to be counted as one among men…

I am resolved to defend and assert the absolute equality of the Negro race with any and all other human races and its divine right to equal and just treatment.

I am resolved to be ready at all times and in all places to bear witness with pen, voice, money and deed against the horrible crime of lynching and of Jim Crow legislation, the injustice of all color discrimination, the wrong of disfranchisement for race for sex, the iniquity of war under any circumstances and the deep damnation of present methods of distributing the world’s work and wealth.

I am resolved to defend the poor and the weak of every race and hue, and especially to guard my mother, my wife, my daughter and all my darker sisters from the insults and aggressions of white men and black, with the last strength of my body and the last suffering of my soul.”

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Few people know that it was congregants of the First Congregational Church and St. James Episcopal Church of Great Barrington who gathered the funds to send Du Bois to college. With this action, we see how Du Bois inspired reparations as he wrote, thought, and fought for us all. At the turn of the 20th century, Du Bois started a conversation about reparations that we are only returning to now in an intentional way. And for the past nine months, in supporting this celebration, as more people learn about Du Bois’s life, I am seeing Du Bois's impact grow. Du Bois chose to call Great Barrington home and lay his family to rest here, and we should be extremely proud that in turn, Great Barrington is choosing to love and honor him for his 150th.

Just earlier this week, as I sat with my colleagues looking at one of our legacy accomplishments —a Du Bois family photo in Great Barrington’s Town Hall—I felt Du Bois smiling upon us. Through his legacy, he continues to change the tide… restoring, repairing, and helping us all forge ahead. After a year like 2017, in which we discussed what statues and figures we need to take down as a nation dedicated to equality and justice, we must also ask ourselves who we choose to lift up.

I am so proud that we have come together to lift up the legacy of one courageous African American man, Dr. W. E . B. Du Bois. May we continue to lift him up, celebrate his life, and make him proud.

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Join Us: 19th Annual Interfaith Celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday

By Housatonic Heritage
 

  • Monday, January 15th
    12:00 – 1:00pm
  • Reception at 1:00pm
  • First Congregational Church Parish Hall, 251 Main St, Great Barrington

Professor Wesley Brown – “Martin Luther King, Jr., the Man not the Monument”

>>>
A civil rights worker’s personal story of the struggle
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In the 1960s, Professor Brown worked on voter registration in the South with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Professor Brown is Visiting Faculty in Social Studies and the Arts, Bard College at Simon’s Rock and Professor Emeritus in English at Rutgers University.

Free Public Event – Please bring an item of nonperishable food for People’s Pantry

Reclaiming Our Cooperative Heritage – Three phases:

  • 1) 18th Annual Interfaith Celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday Organized by the Southern Berkshire Clergy Association, our January 15, 2017 event will focus on W.E.B. Du Bois’ advocacy for cooperative enterprises in relation to Dr. King’s leadership on economic justice. Despite fierce criticism, Dr. King strongly supported the dignity of striking sanitation workers in Memphis (where he was assassinated). He also championed the Poor People’s Campaign of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Professor Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Ph.D., recent Cooperative Hall of Fame inductee and proposed keynote speaker, is uniquely qualified to bring historical perspective and contemporary activism to the MLK event. An economist and community economic development expert, she authored Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. Her research was inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois’ advocacy for African American cooperative enterprises. In 1907, DuBois published Economic Cooperation Among Negro Americans and convened a national conference on Negro Business Development and Cooperatives.

Jessica will also take part in a Community Conversation with young people, civic and business leaders to discuss developing racially and economically diverse worker cooperatives in our region. The MLK event will launch a leadership group to develop Study Circles on creating worker cooperatives. http://heroes.coop/archive/jessica‐gordon‐nembhard/

  • 2) Study Circles on Creating Worker Cooperatives The purpose is to provide in‐depth resources and forums to engage racially and economically diverse youth, working and unemployed people, educators, business civic and faith leaders. A newly formed leadership group will research/adapt the pioneering initiative of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA) to our rural area. Using the curriculum PACA already developed in collaboration with Jessica Gordon Nembhard, we will seek collaboration with diverse faith and community organizations to match facilitators for each Study Circle. https://philadelphia.coop/20bookclubs/
  • 3) New Website on “Reclaiming Our Cooperative Heritage” and Monthly Radio Program. We will publish multi‐media resources on a newly created website, providing information about the 18th Annual Interfaith Celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday and the Study Circles. We will also promulgate information via a monthly regionally broadcast WSBS radio program.

Reclaiming Our Cooperative Heritage – Du Boisʹ Vision, Kingʹs Dream, Our Opportunity

Mission:

Inspired by W.E.B. DuBois’ vision of African American prosperity through cooperative enterprises and by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s impassioned defense of all workers’ dignity, we seek to reclaim our region’s cooperative work heritage. We partner with other organizations to engage community members in research, discussion and development of racially and economically diverse worker cooperatives in the Upper Housatonic Valley region.

Great Barrington Town Hall Briefs: Du Bois celebration; Tim Drumm to retire; Blue Hills residents demand action

By Terry Cowgill, Tuesday, Jan. 9th, Berkshire Edge

Du Bois 150th set to begin Monday, Jan. 15

Randy Weinstein and Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant explain the W.E.B. Du Bois 150th Festival's schedule of events to the Great Barrington Selectboard.

Randy Weinstein and Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant explain the W.E.B. Du Bois 150th Festival's schedule of events to the Great Barrington Selectboard.

Great Barrington — Plans to celebrate the 150th birthday of Great Barrington’s most famous resident have been finalized and will include a month’s worth of events and activities.

Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, who directs Multicultural BRIDGE and co-chairs the Du Bois 150th Committee, was on hand in Town Hall Monday night with Randy Weinstein, founder and director of the Du Bois Center at Great Barrington, to gain approval to mount banners on utility poles in town and to report on the progress the committee had made on celebrating the birthday of the iconic scholar and civil rights leader.

“We chose four core values to hold up for Du Bois,” VanSant said. “Racial equality, economic justice, civil rights and progressive education.”

The Great Barrington Selectboard listens to Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant deacribe the Du Bois 150th Festival and peruses the materials. From left to right: Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton, selectmen Steve Bannon and Dan Bailly. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The Great Barrington Selectboard listens to Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant deacribe the Du Bois 150th Festival and peruses the materials. From left to right: Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton, selectmen Steve Bannon and Dan Bailly. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The Great Barrington Selectboard listens to Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant deacribe the Du Bois 150th Festival and peruses the materials. From left to right: Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton, selectmen Steve Bannon and Dan Bailly. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Click here to see the calendar of events. The celebration starts with an interfaith service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 15, at the First Congregational Church on Main Street. The schedule concludes with a full day events Friday, Feb. 23, that includes talks by former NAACP President Cornell Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning Du Bois biographer David L. Lewis and a musical tribute featuring trombonist Craig Harris and others.

On that final day, there will also be a festival walk; a mural presentation by the Railroad Street Youth Project; exhibits honoring Du Bois in the Mason Library, the Great Barrington Historical Society and Town Hall; and the Du Bois Educational series at the Mahaiwe in the evening.

Also at the Mahaiwe Friday, Jan. 19, there will be a performance of Alexa Kelly’s one-man play featuring Brian Richardson and titled “W.E.B. Du Bois: A Man For All Time.” A discussion will follow featuring Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed, state Sen. Adam Hinds and John Bissell, who heads one of the Du Bois festival’s largest sponsors, the Greylock Federal Credit Union.

See video below of a scene from “A Man For All Time”:

And at the Berkshire South Regional Community Center Monday, Feb. 19. there will be a screening of the film “Du Bois In Four Voices.” Attending the screening will be Dr. Wesley Brown and Judge Harold Ramsey. There is also talk of erecting a statue downtown to honor Du Bois at some point.

“We just have a lot of great events lined up,” VanSant said.

Planning for the festival and celebration began in earnest last spring when more than 30 people got together on a Saturday morning in Town Hall to plan the blow-out.

“It’s going to be one for the ages,” added Weinstein. “It’s going to be unbelievable.”